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A spokesperson for the UN has said that the earthquake in Haiti is like no other disaster in history; as we watch scenes on television and see the devastation unfold, how much do our children need to know about such human tragedy, if anything?
Disasters such as this can leave children feeling confused and scared if they see things they don't understand or don't like. They may not know what an earthquake is, but they can still be very perceptive and have vivid imaginations.
On the one hand you want to be honest with them and tell them the truth. On the other hand, we want to protect them from such awful events. Young children at nursery or preschool may not hear about the news from you - they may hear about it from school. So even if you are thinking of protecting them by not telling them, have a think about how you would answer questions if they arose.
Toddlers really won't understand the words or images they see. Try to avoid them seeing the news with you in case they see the anguish of people and are effected by the images of devastation. Preschool children may react by asking lots of questions. If they are uncomfortable with what they have heard or seen, they may regress a little: thumb-sucking, being sulky, or reacting to the dark or 'monsters'.
Tips for dealing with questions:
- Try to discuss any questions in an honest way, but gauge how much information your little one needs to know.
- Keep an eye on their behaviour and watch for any signs of disturbed behaviour in case it has effected your child deeply.
- Give your child the chance to ask questions. Don't ignore them or they may go off and ask someone else who may not be so sensitive when answering.
- Answer any questions pitched at your child's level of understanding, but try not to dwell too much on it - move on.
- Avoid looking at too many images on television especially graphic ones. Keep TV viewing to a minimum.
- Share some of your thoughts or reactions with your child.
- Look at the positive things too: the heroes who have gone to help, the lucky people who are being rescued, the help being offered all round the world.
You may wish to donate some money to the disaster fund and your child could be involved in this. Get them to pick some money and put it in a collection box or envelope. They may wish to write a letter or draw a picture to send to the children in Haiti. This will encourage them to feel that they have helped in a little way.